International Observation: Britain’s embarrassment and the new normal of China-EU relations – Zhang Jingwei


Leaders of many European countries and the EU have visited China one after another, but the British Prime Minister is not on the schedule to visit China. Brexit has become the orphan of Europe. The UK that has left the EU is not a member of the EU, and the diplomatic deployments made by the EU have nothing to do with the UK. When the “dual core” of France and Germany and the giants of the European Union jointly performed the diplomatic drama of visiting China, Britain became an embarrassing spectator.

British Prime Minister unwilling to visit China? of course not. Will Britain, whose economic strength has been surpassed by India, a former colony, deliberately ignore China, an important trading partner? In the era of Theresa May, Sino-British relations still maintained the bright colors of the “Golden Age”. After Brexit, in order to get rid of the plight of European orphans, the UK hopes to find economic and trade “alternatives” on a global scale, such as applying to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). Therefore, the embarrassment that it is difficult for the British Prime Minister to visit China is not based on economic and trade reasons, but because of speculative and utilitarian political operations.

Britain follows US to curb China, damages relations between the two countries

First of all, the United Kingdom hopes to act as a balancer or even a coordinator between the United States and Europe, but the strength of the United Kingdom is difficult to support such a role. Therefore, as a member of the “Five Eyes Alliance”, the United Kingdom has exported its sincerity to the United States to demonstrate its status as a great power with the prestige of the United States.

Secondly, after Brexit, Britain is isolated in the Atlantic Ocean, and has not only difficult historical knots with European countries on the mainland, but also realistic contradictions brought about by Brexit. Britain followed the United States to dispel the anxiety and sense of loss after Brexit. Unlike the European Union, which passively follows the United States, the United Kingdom actively follows and deliberately caters to the United States, actively acting as a pawn of the United States. Whether it is an ally or an opponent, as long as the United States needs it, the United Kingdom will charge forward. For example, the United Kingdom joined the US-led AUKUS, destroying the submarine contract signed by France and Australia. The United States is “extremely competitive” with China and is conducting an all-round containment of China in the Indo-Pacific region. The United Kingdom has also actively participated in it, and the United Kingdom has also become an anti-China advocate for the United States. Among the major Western countries, the United Kingdom is the most devoted to cooperating with the United States in anti-China and anti-Russia.

Third, France and Germany are representatives of EU autonomy, while Britain, which has left the EU, is the destroyer of EU autonomy. From the enthusiasm of the United Kingdom to follow the United States in the Ukraine crisis, we can see the speculator mentality of the United Kingdom undermining the unity of the European Union and anti-Russia to contain China.

Cooperating with the United States is too involved, and the anti-China performance is too passionate. Under such circumstances, China will not invite the British leader to visit China, and the British Prime Minister is probably self-aware about the visit to China.

Development is the last word. The GDP of the UK has been surpassed by India. The “empire on which the sun never sets” has now become a second- and third-rate country. If Brexit and becoming an orphan in Europe is the first embarrassment for the UK, cooperating with the United States against China and Russia is the second embarrassment for the UK to lose its main power as a major country. After Brexit, the UK also faces the third embarrassment of domestic disintegration. The new Scottish First Minister Yusuf has emphasized that Scotland will adhere to the unwavering policy of “Brexit and independence”.

2022 is the most embarrassing year for the UK. No. 10 Downing Street changed three prime ministers within two months. Political chaos makes the economy miserable. Since last year, record-breaking high inflation and shrinking public income have led to frequent strikes in the British Isles. Among the G7 countries, the British economy is the worst. According to the forecast of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, in 2023, the UK’s gross domestic product will fall by 0.4%, and in 2024 it will grow by only 0.2%, which will be the worst recession among developed countries.

Losing the strength of a major country can only cling to the United Kingdom, which is boasting globally by the United States, and there will be no real independent diplomacy. As far as the current Sino-British relations are concerned, China will certainly not invite the British Prime Minister to visit China, and even if the British Prime Minister wishes to visit China, it may not be possible.

China-EU relations have entered a new normal. The positive changes in China-EU relations began in November last year. At that time, the haze of the epidemic still enveloped China, and the energy winter triggered by the Ukraine crisis also plagued the European continent. At that time, German Chancellor Scholz and European Council President Michel visited China successively, implying that Europe’s visit to China was seeking change.

Europe is optimistic about China’s economic recovery

The general trend of China’s economic recovery has been achieved, and it has also provided assistance for the continued improvement of China-EU relations. Therefore, if the visit of Spanish Prime Minister Sanchez to Huawei is the “icing on the cake” of China-EU relations, the visit of French President Macron and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to China means that the resumption of dialogue between China and Europe is a step further. It is worth mentioning that Borrell, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy will also visit China.

The new normal of China-EU relations is first of all “new”, followed by “normal”. As far as the former is concerned, the “newness” of China-EU relations and the fundamental changes before the epidemic—on the one hand, both major European countries such as France and Germany, as well as the entire EU, have been affected by the “extreme competition” of the United States against China and the depth of the Ukraine crisis. , I am more afraid of the United States, but in an anxious state of mind, I have to follow the United States to oppose China. On the other hand, in the face of the torment of the Ukraine crisis on Europe and the recovery of the Chinese economy, European powers and the EU have to readjust and calibrate their relations with China. Move forward steadily amidst differences.

Naturally, the new normal of China-EU relations is also full of disharmonious factors. The EU includes not only old European countries such as France, Germany, Western Italy, but also new European countries such as Poland in Central and Eastern Europe, as well as small anti-China countries such as Lithuania. Old European countries such as France and Germany are opposed to “decoupling” from China based on their deep economic and trade relations with China and European autonomy. But the New European countries represent the pro-American forces within the EU. Because of this, when the leaders of Germany and France visited China, the two giants of the European Union also came to China. This means that countries such as France, Germany, and the European Union have obvious differences in their stances toward China—the former is more “knowledgeable about China,” while the latter’s stance toward China is quite complicated. Still, the European Union is a European Union, and in the end, what we say and what we do are more or less the same.

The United Kingdom, which has left the European Union and is willing to become a vassal of the United States, has taken a dangerous wrong path in its relations with China. Under such circumstances, if China-UK relations are to be repaired, the UK must change course.

Visiting Researcher, Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China.

Source: Takungpao